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Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik: What’s at Stake

Germany’s Ostpolitik

by Lawrence L. Whetten
Oxford University Press, 244 pp., $6.50

Germany in Our Time

by Alfred Grosser
Praeger, 378 pp., $12.50

Britain and West Germany: Changing Societies and the Future of Foreign Policy

edited by Karl Kaiser, edited by Roger Morgan
Oxford University Press, 304 pp., $13.00

The Warsaw Pact: Case Studies in Communist Conflict Resolution

by Robin Alison Remington
MIT Press, 268 pp., $10.00

The Berlin Crisis: 1958-1962

by Jack M. Schick
University of Pennsylvania Press, 286 pp., $9.50

Steinstücken. A Study in Cold War Politics

by H.M. Catudal Jr.
Vantage Press, 165 pp., $4.95

The Bundestag in Bonn does not look like a theater for tragedy. Outside, stout green policemen stand and yawn, lulled by the pulse of diesel barges passing up and down the Rhine. Inside there are highly polished corridors and a promising scent of thick pea soup. But inside this pale building, which used to be a teachers’ training college, a European tragedy is being rehearsed.

Since he took office in 1969, Willy Brandt’s main accomplishment has been his “Ostpolitik“—his steady efforts to work out agreements with East Germany, Eastern Europe, and the USSR, leading to a détente—and here, in the Bundestag, this policy may be murdered. It would be a long, messy death, lasting through May into June, as his tiny parliamentary majority for the ratification of the Moscow and Warsaw treaties on which the Ostpolitik is based crumbles away.

Some men are leaving his ranks on principle, but more—if a fatal flight from the government coalition of Brandt’s SPD and the smaller Free Democratic Party does develop—will be scuttling across to the Christian Democrat benches for the sake of secretly promised places in office. There is still a fair chance that this will not happen, that the Christian Democrats will become frightened by the wreckage and confusion they will inherit if the treaties are rejected. But at the time of writing, with senior civil servants taking out Christian Democrat party cards in their lunch hour and Rainer Barzel, the Christian Democrat leader, rubbing his hands at the prospect of becoming Brandt’s successor, there are good grounds for pessimism.

The Ostpolitik is like an enormous chandelier. Over Europe there dangles a glittering cluster of interconnected agreements and treaties and understandings, all perilously suspended from a single link at the top. This link is ratification of the Moscow and Warsaw treaties of 1970 by which West Germany recognized the status quo in Central Europe and renounced the use of force against her eastern neighbors.

If this link snaps, the chandelier of provisional détente, which depends upon the positive Bundestag vote in order to come into force, will collapse on the statesmen below. Brandt himself will fall and have to face new elections in Germany. The four-power agreement on new relations between East and West Berlin will collapse and with it bring down the prospective treaty between East and West Germany and the inter-German and East-West agreements on transit and contacts. The admission of both German states to the United Nations shatters. The proposed treaties with Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and other Warsaw Pact states—already at the discussion stage—are wrecked. The talks between the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries on mutual balanced force reduction, the Soviet promise not to operate the “Hostile State” clause of the UN charter against West Germany, and even the prospects of a European Security Conference in the near future might disintegrate too. Some isolated pieces might survive intact, and be stored away against a later reconstruction. Most would not.

It is small comfort to remember that the wreckage will fall also on the heads of those in the West who have tried to discredit Brandt. Barzel and Franz-Josef Strauss, the dominant CDU leaders, will draw no benefit from it. Nor will General Clay and John McCloy, who (with the late Thomas E. Dewey and Dean Acheson) told President Nixon that Brandt was shifting West Germany’s center of gravity to the east in a “mad race to Moscow.” Nor is it much more cheering to foresee the panic of those who have insisted that the whole grotesque structure of détente hangs on the single link of ratification: Nixon, who was largely responsible for making ratification dependent on the prior working out of the Berlin settlement, and the Russians, who made the link more fragile still by denying the Berlin accord force until the Bundestag had ratified the Warsaw and Moscow treaties.

The fact is that everyone, East and West, will lose by the defeat of the Ostpolitik. The last time that a national parliament stopped a European process in its tracks was in 1954, when the French assembly refused to ratify the European Defense Community. Then the Russians and their allies could rejoice. This time, nobody can.

For the Federal Republic itself, the Ostpolitik means in the first place recognition of its own statehood. According to Ostpolitik West Germany accepts its own “Staatlichkeit” and no longer behaves as the free zone of the Reich of those lost 1937 frontiers. This acceptance means that Bonn can contemplate talking on equal terms with the other German state. It also means that Bonn can follow the traditional interest of all states: to achieve as much independence as possible. Here the “nationalist” (not necessarily pejorative) meaning of the Ostpolitik appears.

In the West, the Federal Republic’s policies have been carefully strapped down by her Western allies: NATO and the EEC offer little room for movement. To the East, however, once the taboos of the Adenauer era had been demolished, the way lay open for West Germany to develop her own foreign policy. It was this side of the Ostpolitik that the West did not at once appreciate. From Gerhard Schröder’s first efforts in the mid-Sixties to the more ambitious schemes of the Franco-Germans Grand Coalition, the West Germans appeared merely to be making their own belated but indispensable contribution to the armistice in Europe which the United States and Britain, especially, hoped to create. Only when Brandt came to power and began in earnest to open discussion with Poland and the Soviet Union did the thought occur in Washington and London that West Germany “was getting away from us.”

Lawrence Whetten in his book on Ostpolitik has seen something else which, so far, has also attracted little notice. He records that the Ostpolitik was a two-way process, that a West German policy toward the East encountered and interacted with an East European policy toward West Germany. It can even be argued—though Mr. Whetten doesn’t—that it was the “Westpolitik” of countries like Poland, in particular, that evoked and steered the new ideas in Bonn. He is mainly interested in the development of attitudes toward West Germany within the Warsaw Pact nations, and the way in which general interest among Pact members in making some more flexible approach to Bonn produced a situation in which Rumania and East Germany were able to gain increased independence.

When Rumania broke away and exchanged diplomatic relations with West Germany in early 1967, East Germany temporarily established her “right” to slow down and even control the pace of the Eastern response to the Ostpolitik. The Soviet Union, disliking both extremes, felt unable to totally suppress one in favor of the other and was reduced to uneasy tolerance.

There are many sound and interesting chapters here on various episodes in the story. Mr. Whetten uses the Polish press as a source, which is illuminating, and he is good on Czechoslovakia and on the slow gestation of the idea of a European Security Conference at which East and West would attempt to guarantee their political and economic coexistence in the future. But one can compile a long list of petty criticisms of Whetten’s book: one no longer says “Breslau” for Wroclaw; one can’t discuss the Munich Treaty of 1938 at length without mentioning that both France and Italy found ways of repudiating it since the moment of signature; the Multilateral Force was dead and buried by 1966, not still a factor in Soviet calculations; the four-power agreements are about West Berlin in fact and all of Berlin only in fiction; metaphors like “injecting more latitude” are depressing.

Mr. Whetten may overestimate Rumania’s importance in this period because he underestimates the shrewdness of the East Europeans. He admires the Rumanian example in “probing the limits of Soviet tolerance on the German question.” This seems to suggest that other Eastern European countries longed to fall uncritically into the arms of Kiesinger and Brandt. Few, in fact, did. The Rumanian march to Bonn in 1967 led to a dead end—fortunately so, because it taught Brandt that an Ostpolitik that sought to isolate East Germany would not work. This lesson was driven home by the obstinacy and cunning of men like Gomulka, who saw that the application of a little more delay and unpleasantness would eventually force West Germany to surrender all the claims that were making a European settlement impossible.

In his last pages, Mr. Whetten offers the dismal suggestion of a new European Nuclear Force, a merging of the British and French nuclear deterrents with the West Germans paying a large part of the costs. This sort of idea is all too popular with Anglo-Saxon politologues and politicians, and not only with Anglo-Saxons. M. Pompidou, as well as Mr. Heath, probably thinks happily about it in bed at night. It is a dismal suggestion because it underestimates the national significance of the Ostpolitik to West Germans. The time when Bonn might have paid good money to fatten an Anglo-French bomb, and might have swallowed the fairy tale that this amounts to full participation in a “European” deterrent, is long past. Any version of such an idea would outrage West Germans. Indeed, their resentment of a Paris-London hegemony in Western Europe might well give Ostpolitik a new aspect of reinsurance against Western pressure, a step toward the old eastward orientation of traditional German nationalism.

Professor Grosser is one of the few foreign experts who find the weakness of the West German sense of national tradition distressing. It offends him, perhaps, as a Frenchman. At the end of Germany in Our Time, he remarks uneasily that West Germany

…is normal to excess. In other countries, such as France and Britain, it is impossible to explain everything in terms of factors common to all nations of the same type, whereas in the Federal Republic the transnational elements are so strong that one is tempted to ignore the existence of specifically German features…no other country is so completely divorced from its own history before 1945.

It is a pity, but an occupational risk for anyone who writes books about contemporary German affairs, that since this book was published in France in 1970 Grosser was unable to include events as important and fascinating as the signing of the Moscow and Warsaw treaties or the retirement of Ulbricht. He might have tempered his laments about Bonn’s passivity and lack of historical sense, and his observation that West Germany’s “state of tutelage has turned out to be a permanent one.” But the book remains a splendid successor to the series of works on the history and society of the Federal Republic which has made Professor Grosser the emperor of West German studies in Europe.

Germany in Our Time is not a mere updating of Grosser’s last book, but in effect a new work, and his style, always elegant, has lost none of its Gibbonian moralizing. The Nuremburg trials were “long, meticulous, yet confused proceedings.” The horde of French camp followers in the French zone of occupation gets it memorably in the neck:

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